— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
I guess all of us change over the years. Hopefully we grow. Hope the wolf dog did.
We rescued Hope a few years ago. He was a feral wolf dog, haunting a subdivision and looking for canine company. No one knew where he came from. Members of the subdivision were afraid of him and worried he would eat their dogs. They asked the sheriff to remove him. After attempts to trap him were unsuccessful, the decision was made to shoot him. But one subdivision family understood that his “lurking presence” was from loneliness rather than intent to do harm. They called us and asked if we could help. We were able to trap him and bring him home. (Read the story of how he came to us.)
Over time, Hope slowly connected to Jean and me, still nervous, but open. Because we couldn’t let him run free for risk of getting shot, we housed him with the wolves. The wolves did not accept him, so he had to be kept in a separate enclosure. But he did connect with Talkeenta (aka Woodle), my malamute, who also couldn’t be trusted not to run away. Slowly, we introduced Hope into the Wildlife Garden, where he and Talkeetna could safely play (see story below). But as she aged, diabetic and getting blind, she wasn’t much company for a young, vibrant animal. He did get along with Zak, Jean’s German Shepherd, but Zak spent most of his time with Jean. I had recently gotten a young white German Shepherd puppy, Shota, who has a gentle temperament. We gingerly introduced them, watching closely for any harm Hope might do to the pup. Shota did his very best to seduce Hope, who was uneasy and aloof. It took a few times in the Wildlife Garden with us watching to be sure nothing happened. Hope gradually accepted Shota, who is now a year old, and they have become the best of friends. Hope hungers for his and Zak’s company.
Somewhere in the process, the idea came to us to see if we could help Hope transition into a house companion, so he could have more human interaction and become part of a larger family. He seemed to have those longings, so we have begun that delicate process. Moving him to an enclosure right by the cabin and bringing him in bit by bit into the house. The first step was successful: Zak and Shota welcomed him joyously into their domain as he nervously began to explore, a bit wild-eyed but reassured by their presence. But Hope had never been in a house before and the first thing his instinct told him to do was to mark—the rugs, the furniture, and more if we hadn’t stopped him. This process will take a while. But so far so good! It will be a joy to have his handsome presence in the cabin, especially as it is a little empty without Talkeetna. In my opinion, three dogs (or two and a wolf dog) is just fine in our 18×30 space.
There is an unexpected benefit to all this. Freeing up Hope’s enclosure will make it possible for us to restructure the current wolf enclosures to double their size. This step toward improving their lives is part of our efforts to develop the entire property to improve the animals’ habitats and work with the land. The panels needed to enlarge the enclosures will cost $1500 plus labor. Any help you can give towards this will be much appreciated by some grateful wolves.
A Tale of Hope, Part I
Wolfie, that half wolf/half dog who was trapped from the wild because he was in danger of being shot, has been renamed Hope. He was a stuck between two worlds—neither wolf nor dog, a creature once wild but having now to live with humans. Jean felt his plea for someone to help him out of his dilemma and changed his name as a promise to give him a better life. In a sense, it was also Hope for a new understanding between the wild and the human.
Some time ago we wrote about how he came to us and promised to update you. The news is good, though we cannot tell you exactly how it came to be that way. These things, when one considers them deeply, are surprisingly mysterious. We humans made an effort. But so did Hope. He took a chance; he dared. Why?
As I mentioned, we humans made an effort. Jean would lay down next to his enclosure—asking for nothing, just being there—or play with Nightstar next door where Hope could watch. After some weeks, Jean would enter his enclosure and just sit there, and after time, place a hand on him. Then Jean would leave, letting Hope know that nothing was being demanded of him.
I, too, would go in and just sit. Over time, curiosity—or desire—overcame Hope, and he would approach nearer and nearer. If I reached out, he would back away, but if I waited long enough, he would come up so I could touch him without reaching. Eventually, I could scratch those irresistible spots—just above the tail, the chest, the belly (ah the belly!). A faraway look would come into his eyes. Once again, desire overcame him and I was able to massage him all over.
Jean continued to come back and connect with Hope mentally, saying in effect, “I’m going to touch you and there is nothing to be afraid of.” The mental connection he makes with animals helps calm them down. No pressure. No demands. Just, “It will be OK.” Finally, Jean brought a leash and said, again mentally, “It’s OK. We’re going to go out and have a good time.” He approached Wolfie, now Hope, who simply submitted as Jean put on the leash. We released him into the Garden with the leash dragging behind him so we could catch him if we needed to and bring him back in. But that wasn’t necessary for long. Eventually, he learned to come to us so we could put on the leash and bring him back.
Next step: introducing Hope to my malamute, Talkeetna. She is sweetness itself with humans, but hell on wheels with other dogs. Yet she had demonstrated a weakness for gorgeous male wolves. Would it translate to Hope? I was very nervous to let them both out in the Wildlife Garden because it is large and it would be difficult to run after them or break up a fight. But they had met in passing and Jean had said, “She likes him.” So we tried it. Hope certainly qualified as a gorgeous male.
We put Hope in the garden first so he could make himself comfortable, because he was the more vulnerable one. Then we put in the very confident Talkeenta. After a moment, they spotted each other. Zing! Both came to instant attention. They trotted towards one another. Beeline. You could sense great excitement and intensity. They met. They touched noses. What would happen? A snarling melee or sweetness?
Hope bowed and danced in an offer to play. Talkeetna resisted, looking royal and aloof. Hope tried again, bowing and dancing in what I thought was irresistible fashion. Suddenly, Talkeetna broke down, and there was great leaping and twirling. It was mutual joy. They had a glorious time. Now when we put Talkeetna in the garden and go towards the enclosure to let Hope in, she caterwauls and yelps, quivering in excitement and anticipation.
So Hope’s life has changed dramatically, from being untouchable in an enclosure, to being able to run free in the Wildlife Garden with a new doggie friend as part of his pack.
Yes, we humans made an effort. But so did Hope. This wasn’t humans “taming” a wolf dog. He had to participate equally. He had to dare to approach instead of run away. He had to take the risk of being caught or hurt somehow. Why did he do this? What urge was driving him?
Our contribution was not giving up, and taking the risk that perhaps we would be bitten. His was to go against all his deeply wired fear instincts to try to connect, at possible risk to his life. But he so wanted to trust. It was a mutual effort and a mutual urge, humans wanting to connect with a wild creature and a wild wolf-dog wanting to connect with humans. Again, why? Why did we both want to connect to the point that we both took risks (though his was larger)? But why is it so very important to all of us, human and animal? True, wolves, humans and dogs are social creatures, so that can in theory be safely put in a box labeled “Explained.” But we have had the same experience with a badger, a bear, a cougar, and other “non-social” creatures. I think the desire to connect is an innate quality of life. I think it is life recognizing, being fascinated by, craving, and enjoying the companionship of other life forms. The potential for profound connection is one powerful reason to save space for animals on Earth.
We all wanted the connection, Jean, myself and Hope, and we were able to make it. That animal is heart-achingly sweet. Somehow we were able to meet across a bridge between two worlds, humans and a wolf-dog from the wild.